Tourette’s syndrome is a hereditary neuropsychiatric disorder that manifests in childhood and is typified by physical and vocal tics, such as repetitive jerking movements or (often socially-unacceptable) speech. Cannabis may help with various symptoms of Tourette’s, including reducing anxiety and frequency of tics.
Cannabis research shows it may help ease symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome (TS). With roughly 200,000 Americans alone suffering from severe cases of Tourette’s (and as many as 10% of people experiencing milder symptoms), any possible treatment is worth looking into. Let’s take a look at the six main ways cannabis might be helpful.
1. Cannabis may decrease frequency of tics
There has been considerable interest in the potential for cannabis to reduce the frequency of tics in Tourette’s syndrome (TS) sufferers, and several papers have been published on the subject. A study by researchers in Hanover, Germany (Müller-Vahl et al, 1998) observed that 17 of 64 TS patients reported use of cannabis, and that 14 of those experienced partial or total relief of tics following its use.
The German researchers went on to conduct several further studies into cannabis and the reduction of tics, all of which found that the majority of patients experienced significant relief after using cannabis. They also found that very few patients experienced side-effects. It’s thought that cannabis can reduce TS tics in a similar manner to other dystonia-inducing conditions, such as Parkinson’s.
It’s not clear what this mechanism is, but it’s thought that it may lie in the densely-clustered cannabinoid receptors in the basal ganglia and hippocampus. These areas of the brain are fundamentally involved in the control of behaviour and movement, and are known to be abnormal in those suffering from this syndrome.
2. THC may ease obsessive-compulsive symptoms
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the most common comorbid condition present in Tourette’s Syndrome patients. TS patients who also have OCD exhibit repetitive counting, touching, and “ordering” behaviours, and may also exhibit increased aggression compared to sufferers of OCD alone.
Another study conducted Müller-Vahl and her team supported the finding that patients treated with THC experienced a decline in obsessive-compulsive symptoms along with a reduction in tics.
3. Cannabis can increase effectiveness of conventional Tourette’s syndrome drugs
As well as investigating cannabis as a standalone treatment for TS, there has been significant interest in its use as an adjunctive (add-on) therapy alongside certain conventional TS medications. Müller-Vahl et al observed in a 2002 case study of a 24-year-old woman that “THC may be useful in augmenting the pharmacological response to atypical NL such as amisulpride and risperidone in TS patients”, and that “no serious adverse reactions occurred”.
A much earlier study published in the journal Life Sciences in 1989 suggested that both cannabinoids and nicotine could “significantly enhance” the effectiveness of “neuroleptics” (antipsychotics) in motor diseases including TS.
Furthermore, the only two randomized controlled trials that have been conducted on cannabis and TS compare use of a cannabinoid as sole therapy and as adjunctive therapy against placebo. Both found that use alongside other medications yielded the most positive results. However, sample sizes were small for both these studies, and further investigation is required to confirm the results.
Interestingly, cannabis has also been noted since as early as 1988 to be effective in individuals who did not respond to conventional TS treatments at all.
4. Cannabis can alleviate sleep problems associated with Tourette’s Syndrome
Many patients who suffer from Tourette’s also experience sleep disorders. While there’s been no research specifically into the effect of cannabinoids on sleep disturbances in TS patients, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that cannabis can have a positive effect on this aspect of TS too.
For example, TS is known to cause increased sleep latency (delayed onset of sleep), while cannabis has been widely demonstrated to reduce sleep latency and lessen the difficulty of falling asleep in many individuals.
TS sufferers are also shown to have increased tic frequency during REM sleep, while cannabis use has been shown to reduce the duration of REM sleep altogether, which may cause TS sufferers to experience more restful sleep. TS sufferers are also less able to remain asleep through the night, another problem with insomnia that cannabis can help treat.
5. Cannabis might be an anxiolytic for TS sufferers
The valuable research conducted by Müller-Vahl et al (and the various other research teams that have investigated the potential for cannabis to treat TS) generally found that cannabis use didn’t help anxiety levels. In one study, it even increased phobic anxiety. However, there are many other anecdotal reports of TS sufferers experiencing subjective improvement of anxiety.
There’s even a trademarked “cannabis pill” named Idrasil™ that is marketed at TS sufferers in the U.S. medical states. According to the manufacturer patients experience reduced tics and anxiety when taking Idrasil regularly.
6. Cannabis might reduce aggression and rage resulting from TS
Another common problem that comes with TS is aggression and rage outbursts. This is particularly common in children (affecting up to 25% of children with TS) but is also present in a significant minority of adults. These outbursts typically manifest as unpredictable displays of aggression that are greatly disproportionate to the perceived provocation, and may often present the risk of serious self-harm or injury to others.
Again, the potential for cannabis to treat symptoms of aggression in TS sufferers hasn’t been formally investigated. But there’s anecdotal evidence from TS sufferers that cannabis use has a positive effect on aggression.
Many individuals suffering from ADHD (a closely-related disorder that is often comorbid with TS) also report a subjectively positive effect on aggression.
- Disclaimer:This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your doctor or other licensed medical professional. Do not delay seeking medical advice or disregard medical advice due to something you have read on this website.